3 Jan 2014

Hopes pinned on peace talks as South Sudan violence worsens

Ethnic violence in Sudan has killed thousands, according to the UN, with an estimated 180,000 displaced. Can peace talks stop the violence?

The South Sudanese President Salva Kiir will talk to his former deputy on Saturday in an attempt to stop civil war in the country, Ethiopian mediators have promised.

Since hostilities broke out on 15 December different factions of the South Sudanese army have been fighting each other and killing civilians, says the UN. The UN believes that thousands have been killed and as many as 180,000 displaced in the violence.

What started as a rupture between President Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar has led to ethnic violence, reigniting old tensions between the Dinke tribe which Mr Kiir is from and Mr Machar’s Nuer tribe.

Read more: Lindsey Hilsum's blog 'I need to get the word out on what's happening in South Sudan'

In the last few days rebels loyal to Mr Machar took control of key parts of South Sudan’s oil-producing regions including the city of Bor, and there are fears in the capital city Juba that rebels are now advancing on the city.

Old ally, new enemy

In July 2013, Mr Kiir sacked his entire cabinet including his deputy Mr Machar, in what many saw as a power struggle in the ruling party. Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar of organising a coup against him. The problems resurfaced on 15 December.

UN representative to the country Hilde Johnson told journalists in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, that the peace talks gave South Sudan a path out of the crisis:

“The country is at a crossroads. It’s at the fork in the road,” Ms. Johnson said. “But it can still be saved from further major escalations of violence. It is up to the leaders of this country and the two parties.”

The country is at a crossroads. It’s at the fork in the road UN

President Kiir has ruled out sharing power with Mr Machar and has so far refused to meet him, though both have had delegations in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for several days.

Ethiopian news reported that preliminary meetings had gone well, with Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa to put pressure on the leaders.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Dr Tedros Ahanom on Thursday told reporters that the meetings held so far had been “very constructive and very candid”.

Mr Kiir and Mr Machar are due to talk on Saturday for the first time since the violence broke out.